Business As Usual? London and the Industrial Revolution

Commentators have tended to play down the importance of London as a business and industrial centre since 1500, argues Theo Barker, and in the process have distorted the saga of Britain’s economic rise and fall.

Our picture of Britain’s climb to economic greatness and its subsequent problems, as it is apparently portrayed in the classrooms and as it is certainly presented in the textbooks, is very distorted. The writers seem to be mesmerized by the sound of whirring machinery and the sight of smoking chimneys. Too much attention is paid to making things, especially to making things in factories: not enough to buying and selling or to providing services of all kinds, which are also wealth generators. Textiles, coal and iron, South Wales, the Midlands, the North and Scotland's industrial belt occupy most of our attention, both when these older industries were growing and when they were in relative decline in what came to be called distressed areas. Yet, over time and never more so than since the Second World War, the growing British population has enjoyed ever improving standards of living.

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